Dani Gill on creating a poetry collection about identity, vulnerability, and human connection
Ahead of the publication of her second poetry collection, Lessons in Kindness, we caught up with curator, producer, writer, and educator Dani Gill to chat about everything from her literary influences to her own writing process.
Former Director of Cúirt International Festival of Literature, Performing Arts Curator for the Bealtaine Festival, and Co-Director of Match in The Dark, Dani Gill is a multi-hyphanate who made her poetry debut with After Love back in 2017. This poetry collection was made into a dance/theatre production and premiered at the Galway International Arts Festival in 2021.
Her second poetry collection, Lessons in Kindness, explores identity, sexuality, strength and vulnerability, and will be officially launched in The Mick Lally Theatre on Sunday 2 April, where Dani will be interviewed by writer Edel Coffey.
Through a series of losses and epiphanies, the collection is about a young woman attempting to make sense of the lessons taught and learned. From the recent referenda in Ireland, to a landscape of women ghosts, Lessons in Kindness is a search for meaning and love, set against the backdrop of the wild Atlantic coast.
Here, we speak to Dani about her writing and reading habits, beloved books, and what went into creating this collection…
Did you always want to be a writer/author?
I don’t know if I knew it could be an occupation, but I was doing it from a young age and it felt natural to me.
What inspired you to start writing?
Seeing the world around me and trying to make sense of it. I remember going into the garden to write when I was a child, around the age of 7 or 8. I used to keep stories and diaries on floppy discs as I got older. I seem to always have had an instinct to process things through words.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
My poetry is based on my life so this book is that. It’s about identity, and the women in my life, how they have affected me and what I’ve learned from them. It bleeds out into the community and thinking about what lessons we learn from each other and how we are connected.
Tell us about your writing process.
I’ve given writing a designated space (a studio) and I write every week. I always have a notebook with me as I go places, I record things I see, sometimes phrases I hear or encounters.
What comes first, the plot or the characters?
For me it is a feeling, it goes from there. I think we all have emotions but sometimes articulating them is hard. My journey in writing is to try to put words to what is difficult to say.
What did you learn when writing this book?
I learned a lot through writing this book about who I am now, versus who I’ve been. I see life as an opportunity to learn and evolve and for me that’s about accessing more honesty. Sometimes the things that bring us to that place are hard: grief, hurt, fear, but we can alchemise from those experiences and become stronger, clearer, motivated.
Do you have any quirky habits when writing?
I need to wear shoes! Ideally canvas flats, I find it really hard to write in bare feet or slippers, I don’t why!
The first book you remember reading is…
Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Your favourite Irish author is…
Elaine Feeney, her work is so inspiring and authentic.
The book you gift everyone is…
The Bloodaxe Being Alive, Staying Alive, and Being Human anthologies, they are a great way into poetry.
Three books everyone should read:
At Home in the World by Thich Nhat Hanh.
How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney.
Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David Hawkins.
You overcome writer’s block by…
Taking photos or doing something else artistic that is not writing like painting or making.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Not always but if I do it’s usually something folky and instrumental piano.
The best money you ever spent as a writer was on…
My studio! Having a separate space to do the creative work is just brilliant. When you’re not with your pages, the fact that they are living somewhere and not confined to a drawer or put away really seems to make the difference.
The three books you’d bring with you to a desert island are…
Something practical to identify flora and edibles…
Successful Tragedies by Priscila Uppal.
Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell.
A quote you love is…
“When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.” — Adrienne Rich.
The book you always return to is…
Sandgrain and Hourglass by Penelope Shuttle. It’s an amazing book about grief and love, she writes such powerful poems about losing her husband, it’s just so beautiful.
Seeing your book in shops will be…
Surreal! It’s a mad feeling when you love books and see your own on a shelf. I am excited and nervous.
One book you wish you had written is…
Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto because her imagination is so unique, I’d love to live in it and see what that perspective is like.
How do you use social media as an author?
I‘m very social and I like Instagram a lot. Aside from that I try to be mindful of my screen time, time without internet is important to write.
Should books be judged by their covers? How did you pick yours?
I think covers are important. I chose a photo by Nicola Gunwhy for this book. It’s a skeletal hydrangea petal. I saw it on her Instagram feed, and it immediately connected with me and what I was writing about. When I saw that she had named it ‘Fragility’ I knew it was the right image for Lessons in Kindness. The book has a transparent dust jacket with the petal printed on it. I wanted this to heighten the themes of honesty and transparency in the work.
Do you find it hard not to procrastinate when writing?
I actually find a bit of procrastination useful. Sometimes it’s good to do a mundane task and let yourself empty. The process of creating needs space. We are too regimented in life, everything is scheduled, a little dilly dallying can be beneficial.
The best advice you’ve ever gotten is:
Give yourself permission.
Your work space is…
Busy! Many coloured notebooks, pens, paint, seaweed drying experiments, resin moulds, pops of orange in the furnishings (it’s my favourite colour) and the essentials always stocked — Barry’s Tea, Freddos.
Your favourite literary character of all time is…
Probably Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, he was living the life of an adult without the usual rules, loved fun, made strong fashion choices and wasn’t afraid of a little danger.
Headshot image by Laura Sheeran.
’Lessons in Kindness’ by Dani Gill is available in all good book shops from Sunday 2 April, and can be online via the Salmon Poetry website for just €12.